In a refreshing candidate forum held tonight at St. Augustus AME Zion Church in Kinston, eight(8) candidates for City Council gave their views on how to lead this town of around 20,000. With three(3) seats up for grabs and two incumbents trying to hold onto their seats the forum exposed each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Like any candidate forum, there were varying degrees of preparedness and understanding of exactly how a municipality functions.
This was the Second Non-Partisan Municipal election in Kinston since Attorney General Eric Holder pre-cleared Kinston for non-partisan elections after an extensive lawsuit for the reversal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. See SCOTUS lawsuit Nix v. Holder. It was pleasing to see a shift in thinking and public consensus. This debate was hosted by the Kinston-Lenoir County NAACP, a non-partisan group. The NAACP will not endorse any candidate(s). It is also reported the Democratic Party will follow suit in not endorsing.
The same three(3) questions asked of each candidate. The candidates were:
1) Michael Davis a Vietnam Veteran 2) Sammy Aiken incumbent (retired Navy) 3)Gordon Vermillion business owner & past two term City Councilman 4) Tharol Branch native Kinstononian 5) Felicia Solomon former Lenoir County Schools principal 6) Kelly Jarman Lenoir County Schools administrator and incumbent 7) Steve Ragan Weyerhauser employee and Planning Board member 8) Lennie Peterson US Army veteran & Ex School Bus driver
Queston #1 – City Council recently voted to allow family members of Council members and the Mayor to be hired. Will you vote to reinstate the Nepotism Policy? If Yes, why. If No, why.
Six candidates stated they were opposed to this recent action except Kelly Jarman and Michael Davis. Michael Davis stated he was concerned his children wouldn’t be able to work for the City. Jarman defended and justified her unpopular voting record on this issue by stating the School System and Military have similar policies, only 30% of the population in Kinston have college degrees so we need to keep jobs opportunities available, and nepotism will increase our tax base. (This reasoning both confounds and contradicts)
Question #2 – Public Safety Chief Johnson is retiring. What should be done with Public Safety? (Admittedly the question was misleading and vague. There has been talk of hiring a Police Chief and a Fire Chief in lieu of one Public Safety Director)
All candidates gave a clear and concise answer and agreed City Council should seek out and hire separate department heads and hire a well qualified Police Chief due to the serious crime problems Kinston is experiencing except incumbent Kelly Jarman. She touted the excellent job our current police are doing and public education programs but stated separating the departments would depend on “who we find” to replace Johnson.
Question #3 – What do you foresee for change in Kinston to make it a better place to live and work? (This was a vague open-ended question. But there was some common ground with the answers)
Peterson struggled initially but eventually stated we needed jobs and address crime. Ragan connected the fact that our crime issues have a negative effect on our business climate and the desire for industry, businesses, and families to come to Kinston and stay in Kinston. He stated the only way for us to solve this issue will be a Unifed Effort putting partisan politics aside. Incumbent Jarman stated our lower utility rates, the promise of baseball coming back to town, the coming Land Use Plan, Queen Street revitalization and enforcing the Unified Development Ordinance will make us better. Solomon wants us to work together and invoke community responsibility. She stated we have the “right people at the right time” to solve Kinston’s woes. Branch stated we need a change in leadership, claimed current leadership has destroyed much African-American historical structures and built an entrance to a Confederate Cemetery after tearing down a popular pool hall. He charged the Board of Elections with continuing racism and Jim Crow laws. Vermillion spoke of his two term experience, the fact that we were the only two time All American City in the country, downtown revitalization and the increase in tourism. He sees a bright future for Kinston. Aiken spoke solely of eliminating crime. Davis wants to change the way we think, educate everyone on gangs, change our entire leadership and stated we are failing as a City and as a people.
After viewing this debate and how these candidates fielded the questions, there is no doubt the “Nepotism issue” could be a deciding factor. See “One Issue Could Decide Council Race”. You need to decide for yourself. Please continue to follow future debates and look for the traditional PodCasts on www.Kinston.com this Thursday with Bryan Hanks and his crew. We’ll continue to bring you up to date news on the www.dailynewsfix.org. Use the Subscribe feature to have the “Fix” delivered to your inbox when published.